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Syria funeral is focus of Kurdish anger

A bombing in Aleppo that killed a woman, two of her children and their young cousin triggers outrage among Kurds at a village funeral and throughout the region.

September 07, 2012
  • This photo from the official Syrian Arab News Agency shows the aftermath of a car bombing in the Damascus suburb of Mazzah, which injured one person.
This photo from the official Syrian Arab News Agency shows the aftermath… (Syrian Arab News Agency )

EFRIN, Syria — The mourners chanted, "Long live Kurdistan!" as the doleful cortege moved slowly toward the hillside cemetery, past the olive groves and pomegranate orchards.

Funerals have long become settings for political theater in strife-ridden Syria, where each side has tried to turn burials of war dead into highly public affirmations of their adversary's barbarity.

But the procession Friday through the village of Basuta wasn't just another instance of a funeral becoming a rallying cry against the government of President Bashar Assad.

In this case, the victims — a woman, two of her children and their young cousin, all killed Thursday when bombs fell on an Aleppo neighborhood — were members of Syria's Kurdish community, the nation's largest ethnic minority.

The deaths triggered widespread outrage in the region, a vast expanse of heavily farmed valleys and rocky highlands dotted with Roman-era ruins and other ancient sites.

"This was a criminal act," declared Said Najjar, an official of the Kurdish National Council, who attended the funeral along with other Kurdish leaders. "It is proof of the regime's criminality."

Whether the bombing would push Kurds into a more active role in the almost 18-month rebellion remained unclear.

Some Kurdish leaders have avoided taking sides in Syria's raging conflict. Instead, they have seized on the state's debilitated status to gain de facto control of Kurdish areas, including this sprawling township — where Assad's administration left months ago and Kurdish groups have filled the void.

Several officials of the most powerful and best-armed Kurdish faction, the Democratic Union Party (known as the PYD, its Kurdish initials), said Friday that the group was committed to maintaining its "neutral" stance in Syria's civil conflict. The PYD has had an uneasy relationship with the rebel Free Syrian Army, dominated by Sunni Arabs, though the Kurdish party has denied charges of collaborating with the Assad government.

At the funeral, a contingent of camouflage-clad Free Syrian Army fighters were among those who paid their respects.

"We are one people, Kurdish and Arab," a rebel who gave his name as Abu Abdo, 32, said afterward.

He and several comrades had come from the front-line battle in Aleppo's Salahuddin district, they said.

One PYD official, however, questioned whether the Kurds may have been unintended victims of wayward bombs. "This has to be investigated," said the official, who like others interviewed declined to be named.

The four died in an aerial bombing strike on the Sheik Maqsood neighborhood in Aleppo, according to Kurdish authorities. The district is home to many migrants from Kurdish villages in Aleppo province.

The four buried here Friday were among at least 21 killed and 38 injured in the bombing, officials said. Funerals were also held in other area villages.

For those gathered for the public funeral, there seemed to be no question that the bombing was a deliberate strike on a Kurdish civilian enclave.

"We will take revenge!" mourners declared in one of a number of rhythmic chants assailing Assad's government.

Women wearing head scarves and dressed in traditional Kurdish long dresses ululated in grief. Many knew the family and couldn't hold back tears.

"None of us could believe this happened," said a woman who described herself as a relative of the deceased mother, identified as Amina Mohamad Hassan, 35. "We heard that there had been a bombing near the Marouf mosque in the neighborhood and were so worried. Then we learned it was Amina and her family. That was shocking."

The woman's dead children were identified as Jowan, 7, and Shirin, 3. The cousin wasn't identified.

The father, described as a laborer who has worked as a shoemaker and taxi driver, was seriously injured and remained hospitalized in Aleppo, said friends and relatives of the family. The couple's two other children also survived.

A man who gave his name as Mustafa said he witnessed the attack and helped bring victims to the hospital. He said a government aircraft was responsible. The Syrian military has used aircraft to devastating effect in their battle to push back rebels in Aleppo.

The first bomb struck about 6:20 p.m. Thursday, hitting a four-story apartment building where the family lived, Mustafa said. Then, a few minutes later, as volunteers struggled to remove victims from the smoldering rubble, another bomb exploded on the street outside.

"People who tried to rescue people were killed by the second bomb," Mustafa said.

The four coffins, draped in Kurdish flags, were taken to the cemetery in pickup trucks and then carried to the graves. Loudspeakers played songs celebrating Kurdish "martyrs" of past struggles. A speaker who was no more than 12 years old used a microphone to lead antigovernment chants.

Beneath a blazing sun, the four victims were lowered into their final resting place, amid the wails of loved ones and volleys of ceremonial gunfire from rebel fighters positioned on the hillside above.

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